After one of my recent rants on the devastating impact Wall Street is having on our manufacturing base, a reader by the name of Mike, wrote:
"Just saying "we have to get lean" isn't enough. Just saying "we have to start manufacturing again" isn't enough. HOW to make these happen is the difficult part, but also the vital part of the equation. Rants are fine, but unless you are Sean Hannity, I'm going to ask for more solutions–not LEAN, because we already know that, but rather how to wake up those who need it, get the message out, start moving things in the right direction, etc."
He makes a very good point. Since Mike made that comment, I have been doing quite a bit of thinking about why I write what I do, and what I hope to have come out of it. It is not for personal gain – of that I am sure. My blogging antagonizes many of my peers in the lean consulting community, and drives away far more potential consulting clients than it draws in.
No, my primary motive is to share the hard lessons I have learned from seeing woefully little lean progress over the course of my 25 years of involvement in trying to unravel and put to use lessons from Toyota. It is to challenge conventional thinking and to force people to think. I live under a, perhaps naive, hope that some of the Evolving Excellence readers are sharing some of this stuff with their associates and leaders, and asking 'wuddya think?' And that something constructive is coming out of those conversations about the direction of their individual company.
From my own experience, I have found that the best learning comes long after the formal education process ends. The most important management lesson I have learned came from Dr Seuss, rather than anyone writing for the Harvard Business Review. In On Beyond Zebra, the good doctor wrote,
Said Conrad Cornelius O'Donell O'Dell
My very young friend who is learning to spell
The A is for ape, the B is for bear,
The C is for camel, the H is for hare
The M is for mouse, the R is for rat I know all 26 letters like that
Through to Z is for zebra, I know them all well
Said Conrad Cornelius O'Donell O'Dell
Now I know everything anyone knows
From beginning to end, from the start to the close
Because Z is as far as the alphabet goes
Then he almost fell flat on his face on the floor
When I picked up the chalk and drew one letter more
A letter he had never dreamed of before
And I said 'You can stop if you want with the Z
Most people stop with the Z, but not me
In the places I go there are things that I see
That I never can spell if I stop with a Z
I'm telling you this 'cos you're one of my friends
My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends
My alphabet starts with this letter called YUZ
It's the letter I use to spell yuzza ma tuzz
You'll be sort of surprised what there is to be found
Once you go beyond Z and start poking around
So on beyond zebra explore like Columbus ……..
When we do all the right things, exactly as proscribed, but do not get the promised results, it is quite evident that the prescription was wrong, or lacking something. There is something on beyond zebra that we have not been taught that is necessary for success. When Cliff Ranson did his study several years ago and concluded that over 98% of the publicly traded companies that announce a lean strategy have little or nothing to show for it on the bottom line 5 years later, I found that significant, and something that demands to be addressed.
So back to Mike's question. I have taken you On Beyond Zebra and hammered home the point that we are hog tied by destructive laws and financial practices, and that our regulatory and cultural infrastructure is not only anti-lean, but anti-manufacturing. Mike asked, "how to wake up those who need it, get the message out, start moving things in the right direction, etc." He is correct in saying that, without this answer, I am just ranting.
The honest answer is that I don't have the full answer, but I know that I could have been writing about myself when I hijacked the U.S. Grant quote, "So Fair An Opportunity" for a title to a recent post. The silver lining to the current economic disaster is that the time is ripe for questioning and challenging the laws and the practices of the financial community that caused it. Obama says he wants to get the best and brightest out of derivative scheming and into making a real contribution, but it is evident that he has no idea how to make that happen. The Republican Party is fumbling for an answer, and everyone is struggling to understand how General Motors has so utterly failed. If there has ever been or will be a receptive ear to the lean message, it is now.
The existing PACS and lobbies are not a useful vehicle for taking our political and business leadership out here Beyond Zebra where things look so much different.. For the most part, they are dominated by the the Wall Street gang, and the Main Street voices are drowned out. So a new vehicle must be created. So Mike and everyone else, but I am working on an answer. I have had the great good fortune of getting to know many of the leading lean thinkers in the world, and I am engaging some of them in this question. Within the next couple of weeks I will let you know exactly who you can talk to, what you can do, and how the collective voice of America's manufacturing professionals can be bundled up and put into a package loud enough to be heard.